Russian warships dock at Syria port as Arab observers stay put
| Thursday, 01.12.2012, 05:52 AM

Russian warships led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov docked in the Syrian port of Tartous on Sunday, in what Syria's official news agency, SANA, considered a "show of solidarity" with the regime.
Syrian Defense Minister Dawood Rajiha boarded the aircraft carrier, and lauded Russia's stance on the Syrian crisis that has largely been supportive of ally President Bashar al-Assad, SANA reported.
Both Russian and Syrian officials said the naval visit will strengthen ties between the two nations.
A total of five Russian ships are currently docked at the Russian naval base at Tartous, Moscow's only naval base in the Mediterranean.
Moscow announced the planned visit in late November, and comes at a time of increased volatility in Syria as an anti-regime uprising enters its 10th month.
Russia has resisted Western efforts to isolate Assad's regime as a result of a government crackdown on protests that the UN says has killed at least 5,000 people.
Damascus says it is fighting armed "terrorist" groups that have killed over 2,000 security personnel.
Accounts of violence are difficult to verify as journalists are not permitted to freely cover the crisis in Syria.
Russia, along with China, vetoed a European-drafted UN Security Council resolution condemning Syria in October, proposing its own resolution in December that condemned both the regime and armed rebels. 
Russia warns of Libya repeat in Syria 
Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev warned that NATO and Gulf Arab states are plotting to intervene militarily in Syria along the lines of the Libya intervention that eventually ousted Muammar Gaddafi on the website of the daily Kommersant.
"The main strike forces will be supplied not by France, Britain, and Italy, but possibly by neighboring Turkey,” he said. 
Similar fears were echoed by opposition figure Haytham al-Manna of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB), two weeks ago. 
Patrushev's comments come as Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing violence in Syria.
The pair "condemned the ongoing violence in Syria perpetrated by the Assad regime and noted the significance of the Arab League observer mission's final report due on January 19," the White House said. 
Under fire, Arab mission continues
Meanwhile, the Arab League will not end its observer mission in Syria despite growing criticism from opposition circles.
An Arab Ministerial Committee decided at a meeting in Cairo on Sunday to increase the number of observers, and urged Damascus "to fully and immediately implement its commitments" under the Arab plan, calling on all parties "to immediately stop all forms of violence."
Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, who chaired the Cairo meeting, called on Syria to "take a historic decision" to stop the bloodshed.
Al-Thani said the League hoped to raise the number of observers to 300 "within the next few days" from around 163 now deployed.
Syria's ambassador to the Arab League hit back at al-Thani, accusing the Qatari prime minister of interference in Syrian affairs and a "predetermined and biased stance" against Syria, SANA reported.
Qatar's role in the crisis has been a point of contention raised both by the Syrian regime and in opposition circles.
Opposition figure Haytham al-Manna of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB) warned last week that "Gulf countries might try to turn Syria into a battleground against Iran."
The Arab League was further criticized by Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, a major opposition party active in the Syrian National Council (SNC) – rival to the NCB – which blasted the Arab monitors for allegedly covering up the regime's crimes.
"It is clear that the observer mission in Syria seeks to cover up the crimes of the Syrian regime by giving it the time and opportunity to kill our people and break their will," Brotherhood spokesman Zuhair Salem said in response to the Arab League's decision on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Turkey urged opposition groups to seek Assad's ouster through "peaceful means," a foreign ministry spokesman said following a meeting with the Istanbul-based SNC.
"The Syrian opposition demands democracy and we told them during a meeting yesterday (Sunday) that this should be done through peaceful means," he said, referring to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's talks with the SNC.
Syria has accused Turkey of harboring the Free Syrian Army – army defectors carrying out an armed insurrection against the regime – and allowing rebels to use its territory as a launching pad for strikes against Syrian forces, a charge Ankara denies.
In an apparent vote of confidence in the Arab mission, Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped the Arab League mission would help promote dialogue between the regime and its opponents.
"I pray for a rapid end to the bloodshed and the beginning of a fruitful dialogue between the political forces, encouraged by the presence of independent observers," the head of the Roman Catholic Church said. 
Discord among Arab League monitors
Head of the Arab League's observer mission in Syria, Sudanese General Mustafa al-Dabi, branded as "baseless" claims by former monitor Algerian Anwar Malek that the Syrian regime was committing crimes against humanity.
On Wednesday, Malek told Doha-based Al Jazeera that he had quit the mission and accused the Syrian regime of committing a series of war crimes against its people and of duping his colleagues.
But Dabi said that Malek had barely left his hotel room when deployed in Homs.
"What observer Anwar Malek said on a satellite television is baseless," General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi, former head of Sudanese military intelligence, who leads the operations in Syria, said in a statement.
"Malek was deployed to Homs among a team, but for six days he did not leave his room and did not join members of the team on the ground, pretending he was sick," Dabi said in the statement.
He echoed remarks by an unnamed Arab League official who said Malek was bedridden throughout his assignment in Homs and his accusations are unfounded.
"The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled. The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime," Malek said.
According to Dabi, the Algerian monitor requested leave for medical treatment in Paris but departed before waiting for the green light. 


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